“It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declared the Lord God, when in you I am sanctified before their eyes” (Ezekiel 36:22-23).
“The Lord’s Prayer in the Lord’s Passion” is the theme of the Lenten devotion that Steadfast Lutherans has put together this year. The following sermon addresses the First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. For further reflection, read Ezekiel 20:1-44 and 36:16-38.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The very first thing Jesus teaches us to pray after we address our Father in heaven is “Hallowed be Thy name.” Why is this the prime petition of the Lord’s Prayer, and what are we actually asking for when we pray it?
We can understand the importance of this petition when we understand what God’s name is. God’s name is his nature, his character, his reputation. In short, God’s name is who he is. His name is holy in itself, meaning he is who he is regardless of what anyone else believes about him, as the Lord said when he revealed his name to Moses at the burning bush, “I am who I am.” But God’s name is kept holy among us when we know him for who he is, and speak of him accordingly and act before him accordingly.
And who is our God? What is his name, his character, his nature? The Lord gives two great revelations of his name in the book of Exodus. The first in is Exodus 6, where the Lord says, “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.”
The Lord defines himself as a deliverer and redeemer who does not go back on his oaths and promises, but keeps them. We also see that the Lord wraps up his people in his name, stakes his reputation on them. He defines himself, saying, “I am the Lord your God.”
The second revelation of the name is in Exodus 34, where the Lord descended in a cloud and stood with Moses “and proclaimed the name of the LORD”: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
So the Lord delivers, redeems, keeps his oaths, and stakes his reputation on his chosen people. He is also gracious, merciful, long-suffering, loving, faithful, forgiving, and just. This is who God is. This is his nature and character. This is his name.
The Lord’s name is kept holy when he is known among mankind for who he is. And on the contrary, his name is profaned when his people make him appear to be something he’s not. Yet because God’s name is holy in itself, he will always act according to his name, regardless of what we deserve.
The Israelites, for example, did not deserve to be brought out of Egypt. The Lord makes this very clear through the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 20, “On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the offspring of the house of Jacob, making myself known to them in the land of Egypt; I swore to them, saying, I am the Lord your God. On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. And I said to them, ‘Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.’ But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.”
Would the Lord do it? Would he destroy his people in Egypt instead of bringing them out like he said he would? Of course not! The Lord continues, “But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness.”
The Lord gave no opportunity for anyone to find fault with him. No one could say the Lord was not true to his nature or his Word. He acted according to his name, in spite of the fact that his people didn’t deserve it.
This is a constant theme in the Old Testament. The Israelites inherited the promised land, but then forsook the Lord and went after other gods. They sacrificed their children and worshiped idols and even set up altars and shrines to other gods in the temple, the house of the Lord. And so as we heard in the reading from Ezekiel 36, the Lord scattered his people among the nations and drove them from their land. The Lord is a just God. He does not clear the guilty. And thus the Lord acted in justice according to his name.
And yet, when the Israelites were scattered among the nations God’s name was profaned wherever they went. The nations said, “These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.” The Lord’s name was not being kept holy among his people because on account of them the Lord appeared to the world to be something he’s not.
And so the Lord acted. Note why the Lord acted: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name.” He says, “I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord God, when in you I am sanctified before their eyes.”
And thus the Lord was gracious and merciful to his people – not because they deserved it, but because that’s who he is. He forgave their iniquity and transgression and sin – not because they deserved it, but because it is his nature and character to do so. The Lord did not act for their sake, but for the sake of his name. And when the Lord acts for the sake of his name, we find that he acts for the benefit of his people, because he is who we need.
It is true to this day that the Lord acts for the sake of his name, and that is our hope. We haven’t deserved any better than the Israelites. We don’t want the Lord to act for our sake, according to our merits, because we’ve merited his anger and condemnation. But Jesus teaches us to pray, “Hallowed be Thy name,” let your name be sanctified and kept holy. When we pray this petition we’re asking that the Lord would be seen among us for who he is. We’re praying that the Lord would act toward us according to his nature and not according to our merits. And therefore, out of all the petitions we should care about this one the most because in answering this petition the Lord accomplished our salvation.
The Father sent his Son for the purpose of sanctifying his name, that is, for the purpose of being seen by the world for who he is. The Father gave his Son the name Jesus, which means “the Lord saves.” And Jesus acted for the sake of the name.
“It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name.” For the sake of the name Jesus submitted to arrest and mistreatment. For the sake of the name Jesus carried his cross. For the sake of the name Jesus came to Golgotha with an outstretched arm, endured the nails, and was lifted up.
“Hallowed be Thy name” is first and foremost a prayer that the Father himself would sanctify his name. And therefore the greatest answer to this prayer is the crucifixion of Jesus, because in Jesus’ crucifixion God was seen to be what he is: deliverer, redeemer, oath-keeper, wrapped up with his people; gracious, merciful, long-suffering, loving, faithful, forgiving, and just. “Hallowed be Thy name,” Jesus prayed. And the Father has hallowed his name in the holy blood of his Son.
We pray that God’s name would continue to be hallowed among us. And how is God’s name kept holy among us? First, God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity. We pray that we would speak of God as he is, and that we wouldn’t profane his name by using our words to depict him as something he’s not. God’s name is kept holy when he is proclaimed as gracious and merciful and as the one who does not clear the guilty. Much false teaching about God is a result of focusing on one part to the exclusion of the other: either emphasizing grace and mercy to the point that people no longer care about sinning against God, or emphasizing justice to the point that people despair of salvation. Either way profanes the name of God and robs people of the Gospel.
Second, God’s name is kept holy when we who have been baptized into God’s name live according to his Word. When we don’t live according to his Word, then the world despises God on our account and takes him to be someone other than who he is. Thus when we pray, “Hallowed be Thy name,” we ask that God’s name would be kept holy in our words and deeds.
And yet the fact remains that the first petition is ultimately a prayer that the Father himself would sanctify his name, that he would act according to who he is and not according to what we deserve. And as certainly as the Father has sent his Son, and as certainly as his Son lives, so certainly will he continue to sanctify his name on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.